Backyard beekeeping on the Isle of Newfoundland since 2010. 47°42'27.6"N 52°42'30.0"W
Category Archives: Month of June
A record of all the relevant beekeeping that I do (or have done) during the month of June. For the record, I began with two nucleus colonies in Langstroth hives in 2010 that I kept in my small backyard near downtown St. John’s (Newfoundland). I bought two more nucs the next year. By 2012, using swarm cells and naturally mated queens, I had six colonies on a farm in Portugal Cove. By 2013, mostly by creating splits with swarm cells, I had eight colonies on the edge of a big field in Logy Bay. I lost most of my colonies in the winter of 2015 to shrews. That was the only year I wasn’t able to take honey from my hives. I moved what was left of my colonies to Flatrock in 2015 and slowly built my beeyard up to nine colonies by the summer of 2016. My goal is to maintain a relatively self-sustaining beeyard with no more than ten colonies.
I’ve have a couple of swarm boxes that I was given 10 years ago and I’ve never stopped using them. Mostly I use them for transporting bees, but I also load them up with old drone comb and other frames and use them to actually catch bees. Here’s a really short video that explains how I do it in a manner that I’m sure many hard line beekeepers would not agree with.
I created a walkaway split this summer and it worked. I got a second colony out of it.
I divided a well-populated, strong honey bee colony — one that was on the verge of swarming — into halves, each half with an identical assortment of frames: Frames of honey; pollen; capped brood; frames of open brood packed with nurse bees; empty drawn comb; and maybe a frame or two of bare foundation. Open brood between 1 and 4 days old was the crucial part.
Queen cells torn apart. Observed on DAY 20, though it probably happened around DAY 16.
One of the halves stayed in the original location of the hive. The other half was set up probably about 10 feet away from the hive, but the exact location in the beeyard didn’t make any difference. Continue reading →
As I get used to reading the frames with this all-medium beekeeping I’ve taken on (it’s slightly different), I’m playing it safe in regards to swarm signs. We’ve also had an unusually warm summer so far. Most of my colonies are bursting at the seams. I’ve run out of frames and boxes to keep them contained. So any sign of backfilling and I’m giving the queen more room to lay.
Backfilling is when so much nectar is coming in that the bees run out of space to store it, so they end up storing it in the brood nest where the queen normally lays her eggs. When the queen runs out of space to lay like this, she becomes “honeybound.” And when that happens, the colony usually swarms.
That’s something I try to avoid as much as possible, especially since I live on a street packed with little kids, and one of those little kids is terrified of flying insects. I don’t want a swarm to land on her swing set and traumatise her for life. Continue reading →
A typical day from June 2019 on the east coast of Newfoundland.
I often set up Gmail reminders about things I’d like to remember a year later. Here’s a Gmail reminder that came in three days ago:
A year ago today (July 7th, 2019), the temperature finally went above 20Â°C (68Â°F) and stayed there for a while. Until then, we were buried with cold rain and fog and the occasional mildly warm day that may have peaked at around 10Â°C (50Â°F). My honey bees in Flatrock virtually died from not being able to forage and not really having anything to forage on until July 7th.
It may not have been as bad in more inland areas of the island, but there were so little resources available, the nucs I ordered took forever to build up (a huge contrast to the nucs I had in the summer of 2016) . My bees barely drew out any new comb, too, though that may have had more to do with the waxless plastic foundation I used. In any case, it’s often helpful to look back at the previous year to see how things change dramatically from year to year. (That’s the main reason I maintain this blog. For those on a desktop, if you scroll way down on the right side menu until you see ARCHIVES, those monthly archives are the most valuable links for me. I click them all the time.)
This spring wasn’t the greatest (it seems rare to have a good spring on the east coast of Newfoundland), but June 2020, with it’s stifling heat and humidity, was the opposite of June 2019, or as we say, Junuary. It felt like winter for most of last June. This June I had to do everything to stay ahead of my colonies so they wouldn’t swarm.
It seems that beekeepers — and especially beekeepers in places like Newfoundland — should prepare themselves and their bees for entirely different conditions from season to season. That’s the moral of today’s story.
The population of a honey bee colony can explode in no time once the weather warms up and everything comes into bloom. (That’s right about now, by the way, at least in my little corner of the Isle of Newfoundland.) All that nectar, all the pollen, all the warm air, all that sunshine — the next thing you know, the bees are getting ready to swarm, or they’ve already swarmed. It seems to take only a few days for the bees to get that message when the conditions are right. As a general rule, when I open a hive and see bees over the top bars of every frame, I add another super, another hive box — I give the colony room to grow. They may not need the extra space today or tomorrow, but when they do need it and it’s not there, boom, off they go in a giant cloud of bees that will fill the sky, also known as a swarm. This video shows what it looks like when it’s time to add another super to the hive (at least for me it does):
00:00 — A deep super (and frames) cut down to a medium. 00:40 — Bees covering the top bars (time to add a super). 01:10 — Dispersing the bees with mist instead of smoke. 01:27 — Adding the super. 01:48 — Adding a foundationless frame (for comb honey). 02:38 — Putting the hive back together. 03:10 — Confused bees looking for the new entrance. 04:52 — The bees already reoriented to the new entrance. 05:10 — A problem with a 9-frame brood chamber.
And some bonus material for those who can hold out long enough.
P.S. #1: I mention in the video that’s it’s June 21st when it obviously isn’t. That’s my pandemic brain jumping up and saying hello. Everybody and their cousin Bob is losing track of the days.
P.S. #2: Some would look at this video and think I put another box on too early, that every frame in the hive should absolutely packed with bees for adding another box. Maybe. But when a nectar flow is about the kick into high gear, I prefer to play safe than sorry. There are advantages and disadvantages to everything. Putting a box on too early, like I may have done in this video, can result in the bees not really filling up any frames. They spread everything out and none of the honey frames get filled to capacity. However, it reduces the likelihood of swarming. Waiting until more bees to cover the frames can have the opposite effect, more honey packed into the frames but greater risk of swarming.
Here’s a honey bee colony that seems to have benefited from dandelions that weren’t mowed down.
00:15 — Burr comb beneath the inner cover. 00:47 — Fresh comb made from yellow from dandelions. 01:00 — A frame of capped brood. 01:34 — Beautiful brood pattern. 01:49 — Close up of capped brood. 02:10 — Open brood (little white grubs). 02:25 — A closer look at the queen. 02:53 — Yellow burr comb. 03:50 — Honey bees scenting. 03:55 — Close up on fresh eggs in burr comb. 04:18 — Summary of inspection.
Plus some bonus material for those who bother to watch the whole thing. Continue reading →
Buttercup in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland (June 28, 2016.)
May 30th, 2020: This plant is sometimes referred to as Creeping Buttercup, which is toxic to grazing animals. I’ve seen honey bees on buttercups a few times, but apparently there is some concern that it could be toxic to honey bees too. If it is, I doubt honey bees will bother it. They’re usually good at avoiding things in the natural environment that aren’t good for them.
June 22nd, 2020: Well, I finally saw honey bees on buttercups:
The bees didn’t stay on them for long, but they seemed willing to give them a taste.
Two weeks ago I wrote a post on Swarm Prevention. I talked about knowing when to stop feeding to prevent swarming and all kinds of good stuff. I also said something like this:
In a standard Langstroth hive with foundation, all the foundation usually has worker-sized cells imprinted on it, so the bees tend to build worker brood comb on it, not drone comb. That leaves the queen with nowhere to lay drone comb, so she’s forced to fill the space between the boxes with drone comb — drone comb that is a big ugly mess to clean up in the spring.
Destroyed drone comb between the brood boxes after an inspection. (May 05, 2012.)
Thatâ€™s why I insert at least one foundationless frame into the brood nest of every colony. Given the choice to build comb however they like it, if theyâ€™re short on drones (and they usually are in a Langstroth hive full of plastic foundation), the bees will (usually) fill the foundationless frame with drone comb instead of gunking up the space between the brood boxes with it.
…naturally drawn out drone comb with freshly laid eggs inside most of the cells.
Close up of natural drone comb made from dandelion nectar. (June 05, 2016, Flatrock, Newfoundland.)
The wax is yellow probably because the bees have been collecting dandelion nectar and pollen for the past few weeks.
Click the image to see a much sharper close up view of the comb.
Does adding a foundationless frame to the outside of the brood nest prevent swarming? I don’t know. (UPDATE: It works.) I still think the #1 method for preventing swarming is the give the queen space to lay by adding drawn comb, replacing frames of honey with drawn comb if necessary. Second is to give all the bees that emerge from the brood frames space so the hive doesn’t get congested with too many bees. The pheromones from the queen and from the open brood don’t circulate well around a congested hive. The worker bees get swarmy when they can’t smell those pheromones. Third, give the rapidly-growing population of worker bees something to do. That’s another reason why I toss in foundationless frames. The bees in a crowded colony usually want to fill in that space as quick as possible. They will eat honey to make wax so they can build comb to fill in the empty space. Eating honey frees up space for the queen to lay. Then the new comb will give the queen more space to lay (probably drones). So in a perfect world all of these things balance out so the hive doesn’t get gunked up with drone brood between the boxes and the queen has enough room to lay so swarming isn’t triggered. In a perfect world.
I added jar feeders full of honey to some of my hives about two weeks ago (the last time it was about 10Â°C / 50Â°F). The bees emptied the jars, so today I added some jars full of crystallized honey. And guess what? They like it!
Feeding the bees a jar full of crystallized honey. (June 04, 2016.)
The weather stinks. It’s so cold the bees can barely do anything. None of my colonies are in great shape and this weather doesn’t help. Stupid weather.
June 15th, 2016: Here’s a better example of it from 2013:
The honey in the video was rock solid crystallized honey. That seems like the best way to do it.
Introduction: It’s impressive to see how many wild flowers will grow in exposed soil when the soil is simply left alone. I once moved into a house with a gravel driveway and one half of the driveway was never used. Everything seemed to grow in that gravel and dirt, every kind of clover, bush, vine — you name it, it grew there. And all I did was leave it alone. I saw more of my honey bees, bumble bees and other native pollinators over on those flowers than anywhere else. So maybe planting flowers to “save the bees” isn’t necessary. Maybe all we need to do is expose some soil to the wind and see what happens. In any case, here’s a list of flowers, both wild and cultivated, that my honey bees seem to be attracted to. This list was last updated in August 2019 when I added Cow Vetch.
Honey bees in Newfoundland, or at least where I live on the eastern part of the island, aren’t likely to see any pollen until April when crocuses begin to poke through the soil.
Honey bee on crocus (April, 13, 2011).
And crocuses aren’t even a natural source of pollen. They’re popular in some suburban neighbourhoods, but most honey bees elsewhere won’t find natural pollen until May when the dandelions come into bloom.
Honey bee on dandelion (May 26, 2011).
I say this because I’ve casually documented every honey bee on a flower I’ve seen in Newfoundland since I started beekeeping in 2010. So far I’ve documented over 30 flowers that qualify in my mind as Newfoundland Honey Bee Forage. My list is by no means comprehensive, but it provides me with a general idea of what to expect throughout the year. Continue reading →
In my experience, plastic insert feeders that fit inside medium or shallow supers are dangerous because they don’t provide the bees convenient access to the syrup. Using an insert feeder to build up a nuc could be disastrous, especially in a cold climate like Newfoundland.
Plastic insert feeder in a medium super (June 1, 2011).
I bought an insert feeder during my second spring of beekeeping in 2011 because it seemed like a cheaper alternative to a hive top feeder. But I could never get the bees to take syrup from the feeder. (I’ve heard the same from numerous beekeepers over the past four years.) My bees would have starved had I kept trying to feed them with the insert feeder. Continue reading →
Honey bee on Purple Clover in Flatrock, NL (July 26, 2015.)
I saw a honey bee on some Purple Clover yesterday (some call it Red Clover), so let’s add it to the list of honey bee friendly flowers: Trifolium medium, also known as Zigzag Clover. That’s my best guess, anyway.
Honey bees can’t access the nectar in Purple/Red Clover as well as they can from White Clover, so it’s not something I’d go out of my way to plant, but neither will I mow it down if it’s growing in my lawn.
JUNE 30, 2016: I saw Purple Clover in blossom as early as June 15th this year.
Although it’s been in bloom for a while, I’ll now add White Clover, or Trifolium repens, to my list of honey bee friendly flowers in Newfoundland because I actually saw a honey bee on some today near the university.
White Clover in St. John’s, Newfoundland (July 23, 2015.)
I snapped these photos with my mobile phone today. Nothing special, but it does the job.
White clover with out-of-focus honey bee in St. John’s, NL. (July 23, 2015.)
JUNE 30, 2016: I’ve seen White Clover in bloom this year as early and June 15th.
Another honey bee friendly flower that grows abundantly on the island of Newfoundland is Showy Mountain Ash, Sorbus decora, or as it’s commonly known, Dogberry.
Dogberry blossoms in St. John’s, NL (June 23, 2015).
Again, a big reminder to wannabe beekeepers in St. John’s that your honey bees would be all over these flowers, collecting pollen and sucking up nectar to make their honey. There is no shortage of nectar for honey bees in St. John’s.
Honey bee landing on Dogberry blossoms in Flatrock, NL (June 27, 2015).
These blossoms turn into hard bunches of bright red berries that stay on the trees well into winter and provide a food source for wintering birds. Continue reading →
I was informed today that the plant is called Sorrel and the leaves are edible, kind of the tangy side, though not so delectable for humans once they’ve gone to seed. (It’s also possible to grow it.) Continue reading →
One of my cats killed a shrew near my hives today.
Dead shrew. (June 27, 2015.)
I lost three quarters of my honey bee colonies to shrew predation last winter. No one ever warned me about them and I never noticed much written about them. You can expect me to write a Masters thesis on them by the end of the year, though.
I’ve seen honey bees explore blueberry blossoms around my house and quickly move on to something else. They don’t seem too interested in blueberries. But seeing how honey bees are used to pollinate blueberries, I’ll add blueberries to the list of honey bee friendly flowers in Newfoundland.
Blue Berry blossoms in Flatrock, Newfoundland (June 26, 2015.)
Not the greatest photo of a blueberry bush, I know. I’ll replace it with something better if I can remember to take a better photo some day.
Well, I’ll be damned. Someone gave me a plum tree as a housewarming gift. I like it and so do the bees (though I couldn’t manage to get a shot of a bee on the blossoms). It’s an unnatural plum tree, a hybrid, so I’ll just skip the scientific name and go with the Wikipedia entry for Plum.
Out of focus cell phone photo of plum blossoms in Flatrock, NL. (June 17, 2015.)
This is Part 2 of some hive inspections I did yesterday. It’s a 3-minute video that, among a few other things, shows what frames of pollen and nectar look like. Again, this may not seem like the most scintillating thing on the planet, but it would have been helpful had I viewed videos like this when I started. By the end of my first summer, I needed to know the difference between frames of pollen, nectar, honey, worker brood and drone brood, and there was no one around to show me what was what. Knowing that I was on my own partially motivated me to write this blog. Before I post anything, I usually ask, “What would I have liked to have known when I did this for the first time?” (Even if the first time was only two days ago.)
Here’s a 6-minute video from an inspection I did yesterday that shows me spotting the queen, adding a frame of drawn comb to give the queen more space to lay, and there’s a shot of the bees cleaning up a mouldy frame of pollen taken from one of my dead colonies — and you’ll hear me talking about my plans for inspecting all my hives and how I’m going to manage them. That part sounds boring, but it might give new beekeepers a sense of how to go about inspecting their hives, that is, having a plan and knowing that most plans are a joke. The bees tell me what they need, not the other way around.
1:46 — The first look at the bees inside the hive, before removing frames. 2:05 — A frame of moldy pollen. 2:18 — A close-up shot of the queen laying an egg. 3:53 — Inserting a frame of empty drawn comb to make room for the queen to lay.
I mention in the video that I plan to add another deep to the hive, which is what I did, though it’s not in the video. It’s in this 1-minute time-lapse behind-the-scenes video where I explain why the hive has a moisture quilt and a few other things.
I recently noticed honey bees on these Chuckley Pear blossoms…
Chuckley Pear blossoms in Flatrock, Newfoundland (June 10, 2015).
…so I’m adding Chuckley Pears to my list of honey bee friendly flowers (in eastern Newfoundland, at least). As with most wild berries, it goes by several names: shadbush, serviceberry, juneberry, saskatoon berry, etc.
Chuckley Pear blossoms in Flatrock, Newfoundland (June 10, 2015).
My 60-second Wikipedia research tells me the Chuckley Pear is called Amelanchier, though the particular species in these here parts is probably Amelanchier Canadensis.
Thanks to everyone who identified the blossoms for me.
I wasn’t able to spot the queen until my second summer of beekeeping, not until an experienced beekeeper showed up one day and pointed her out to me. “That’s what she looks like?” — was pretty much my reaction. I had no problem spotting her after that. Once you get a good look at the queen, you never forget her. She stands out like a giant compared to the other bees, kind of like the queen alien in the Aliens movie. Anyway, here’s a quick video of a queen bee I spotted today — and I caught her laying a few eggs. (Though I suppose they’re not really eggs once they’re laid, but for simplicity, I’ll stick with eggs for now.) This video is a good test for new beekeepers. The test is called, Can You Spot The Queen?
See how hard it is spot the queen in the deluge of bees that surround her? But then once you spot her, see how hard it is to not see her? You get the hang of it after a while. A video like this would have gone a long way to helping me spot the queen when I was starting out.
Notice, too, that the queen carefully inspects every cell and will only lay in cells that are immaculate. (It’s in the video. Watch it again if you missed it.) The worker bees do some serious cleaning long before the queen ever shows up. If a frame or comb isn’t clean, the queen won’t even look at it.
I’ve already written about my switch to rubber bee gloves. I wear them because they’re more tactical than goat skin gloves, but boy oh boy do they ever fill up with sweat in no time. Here’s what my fingers looked like after about an hour of beekeeping in the sun today:
Wrinkled fingers after sweating in rubber gloves. (June 10, 2015.)
And my hands stink like rubber. I still prefer them over goat skin. I’ll wear goat skin when I want extra protection from bees that I know I’m going to upset, or in the winter for warmth. But I think I’ll invest in several pairs of rubber gloves so I can strip them off, dry my hands and put on a fresh pair every 30 minutes or so. It wouldn’t hurt. By the time I was finished with the bees today, I could feel the sweat trapped inside the fingers of the gloves squirting around every time I gripped onto something.
June 2019 Introduction: I have read several accounts of honey bees making an early spring honey from Red Maple blossoms, usually on the west coast of North America. I don’t see many of those trees where I live on the east coast of Newfoundland, but regular maple trees, whatever you want to call them, are abundant in urban areas of the island. This post was written on the assumption if honey bees collect Red Maple nectar, they must be able to collection nectar from regular maples trees too.
The city of St. John’s may be one of the best places to keep honey bees on the island of Newfoundland because it’s full of maple trees and a large variety of flowering plants that offer honey bees a bonanza of nectar and pollen from June well into October. Walk around the city today and you will see flowering maple trees everywhere with little flowers that look like this.
A maple tree flower in St. John’s, NL (June 09, 2015.)
I took that photo on my cell phone and I know it’s not the greatest, but if St. John’s had more beekeepers, honey bees would be all over those flowers — and honey made from maple nectar is spectacular.
The quantity, diversity and consistency of honey bee forage makes the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland, an excellent place to keep bees. (Just make sure your neighbours don’t mind.)
March 6th, 2016: I found this photo from 2011 that shows flowers on a maple tree, the kind of flowers that hang down in long bunch. The bees supposedly go for these too.
Maple blossoms in St. John’s, Newfoundland. (June 19, 2011.)
Not the greatest photo but good enough.
May 27th, 2016: The maple tree flowers show up as early as May. Nice.
Maple blossoms in St. John’s, Newfoundland (May 26, 2016.)
There’s not much to see here except some honey bees messing around on some dandelions.
I’m just using the bees I saw in my front yard today as an excuse to spread this message again: Dandelions provide honey bees and other pollinators with a much needed boost in the spring, especially in seasonally delayed places like Newfoundland where dandelions and other wild flowers don’t begin to bloom in large numbers until June. If all dandelions were mowed into mulch or destroyed by pesticides, some honey bees and native pollinators in Newfoundland would be in pretty hard shape. Strawberries and a variety of fruit trees that benefit from honey bee pollination would lose out too.
One of my honey bee colonies swarmed into a tree last week. I caught it and put it in a new hive with a small frame feeder and three frames of empty drawn comb so the queen could start laying right away. I checked on it yesterday and here’s a video that shows what I found (it’s doing well):
It’s not the greatest video, but it shows how things are working out for me since I moved the hives from my backyard to a place in the country. I won’t say exactly where I moved the hives, but anyone familiar with farms around St. John’s probably won’t have a hard time guessing correctly.
A couple notes about the video: 1) I got lazy with making my improvised ventilated inner covers. I came up with an equally effective but much easier to make version of the same thing at the 3:19 mark in the video. I haven’t tested it much yet, but I’ll write up a more detailed post for it later if it works. 2) The hived swarm probably doesn’t need two deeps just yet (and probably doesn’t need the extra ventilation), but swarms are known for building up fast. I gave them the extra hive box in case I can’t make it out next week. I’ll keep feeding the hive now just like I would with a nuc.